About three weeks ago, thirty ethno-racially and linguistically diverse women- concerned with issues of women’s equality, immigrant and racialized women’s inclusion, and with general issues of immigrant and refugee integration-gathered to talk about what they saw as the political, policy and program priorities in Ontario. The meeting, hosted by the Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues and the Ontario Women’s Directorate with support from OCASI, was a first of its kind. It was the inaugural meeting of a series planned across the province with various groups to mark the 30th anniversary of the Women’s Directorate.
The women at the gathering were challenged to put proposals for change on the table and to identify solutions to long-term challenges faced by women. Not surprisingly, the first half of the conversation was about naming. About surfacing the issues so many of us know but don’t often get to speak to each other about. Issues like the stubborn gap between the earnings of men and women. And even more troubling, the widening gap between the earnings of Canadian (especially White) men and immigrant (particularly racialized) women. Other issues, like the horrific experience of physical and sexual violence, the marginalization of women with precarious immigration status and the lack of resources to support them, the introduction of the conditional permanent residents regulation, cuts to the Federal Interim Health (IFH) program and the impact on refugee women, were all identified as priorities needing policy, program and advocacy responses.
An overarching discussion point was the noticeable shift in policy to a ‘gender neutral’ agenda. A result, many around the table believed, of ‘gender mainstreaming’ and its skewed implementation in government policy. Many talked about being questioned about issues of male equity when proposing women centred programming. Others worried about the absence of language in public policy that speaks to the experience of women and their various intersections of identity.
The proposals to the Ontario Women’s Directorate were to be intentional and proactive in the implementation of a gender-plus analysis (intersecting social identities) in all of its policies, programs and funding decisions; to take on an advocacy role at the Cabinet table (Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues) and intergovernmental tables on issues pertinent to women, especially historically marginalized women; to develop, promote and resource programs that respond to women’s economic well-being and empowerment, and to embed feminist practice within the culture of the Directorate. The work that the Directorate has been doing on violence against women, including on issues of trafficking of women and girls, was affirmed as important and necessary.
Senior staff and the Minister both indicated that they were in agreement with many of the priorities identified, and thought many of the proposals put forward were doable and in line with the thinking and strategic direction of the Directorate. We encouraged the Minister in her travels around the province during this 30th year to apply a gender-plus social analysis to the conversations to ensure that the priorities of the most marginalized amongst Ontario’s women are being heard.
The 30 women who had spent the two hours over breakfast left the meeting feeling energised from the discussion but also because of the networking opportunity the event provided. From the feedback to date it is fair to say that all left that morning with a sense of renewed purpose and energy to continue the important work that we all do.